Dr Marcus Heitmann

Dr Marcus Heitmann

Volkswagen's Car-Net platform provides a variety of in-vehicle internet-based services, including remote vehicle access, roadside assistance, diagnostics and maintenance, and the ability to set speed and boundary alerts. To find out more, we caught up with Dr Marcus Heitmann, general manager for Volkswagen Car-Net.

Could you tell us about some of the technologies that VW highlighted at the most recent CES and your main message?

Our focus is set on four innovation fields. These are very important because they represent the biggest change in our company. It's about smart sustainability, automated driving, connectivity and all of this in combination with the best user experience. And of course, as I am working within the connectivity team, it's my personal focus. Having said this, the highlights of this year's CES was, from my perspective, the User ID and the Volkswagen Ecosystem.

We believe that VW has developed a new app which takes personalised connectivity to the next level. Could you tell us a little more about VW's concept and the possibilities for its further development?

Today there are already 2.1 million cars on the streets using Volkswagen Car-Net. That's a huge success. But looking into the future we need to get away from being focused on the car. We need to focus on the customer. That's why we're developing an ecosystem which offers mobility services with a central User ID for the customer. But what's the benefit? A good example is an annoyance you always get when you step into a car that someone else used before. This may be a rental car or even a car from your friend. Today you have to change all the setup: switch music or stations, connect your phone and so on. In the future there is only one login with the Volkswagen User ID meaning the car receives all your preferences and is instantly 'yours'.

Looking around CES, it seems like almost everything is now connected to everything else including the cars. What is your vision of the connected car?

Volkswagen is a mobility expert. That's not going to change. But now, as the customer wants to use certain services even while he is driving, we need to support him with the right set of services and corresponding technology. That's why the connection of third party services, like Amazon for example, with our own ecosystem is going to be more and more important. As our cars are to be sold in all parts of the world we will implement a big diversity of third party services.

We understand that there are some promising opportunities opening up in the automotive industry from correlating data on cars, drivers and their environment. What is your perspective?

This digitalisation in general means the car is going to be a mobile living space and, as someone said, the ultimate mobile device. It is common knowledge in the whole automotive industry that this is the biggest change in the history of the car. So with connectivity technologies like Car2X, Car2Car and the automated driving as well as the car being part of the Internet of Things we will have more comfort, less crashes and more time for either entertainment and recreation or productivity. Another good example for the transformation: The Volkswagen Group has now its 13th brand: MOIA*. And MOIA is all about mobility services.

What do these opportunities actually mean for VW and its car dealers?

First it means changes in the connection between us as the manufacturer and the customer. In the traditional relationship the customer buys the car at the dealer and the dealer is his first point of contact throughout the lifetime of the vehicle. But that doesn't necessarily work with online services. Even today with Volkswagen Car-Net, you have a direct connection between the customer and the company itself. We really value the relationship with our dealers and will, of course, integrate them in our new business models.

* MOIA is the latest company in the Volkswagen Group. Officially launched in December 2016, MOIA was set up for the purpose of redefining mobility for people living in urban areas. This independent Berlin-based company does not see itself as an automaker or a pure-play car-sharing provider, but rather aims to become one of the world's leading mobility service providers by 2025. Its focus is on the in-house development of IT-based on-demand offerings such as ride-hailing and pooling services. For this MOIA also specifically invests in digital start-ups and collaborates with cities and established transport providers.

See also Connected vehicle technologies - forecasts to 2031